Manipulations without borders
Media in Gabon freer than Bulgarian? Come on!
Prof. Mihail Konstantinov
13 May, 2017
For years, the international organisation Reporters Without Borders has been releasing its annual World Press Freedom Index, whose credibility some consider debatable. Bulgaria has always had a less than envious position there. Moreover, in the 2017 index it is ranked 109th out of 180 countries! Granted, the score itself of 35.01 (it is a system from 0 to 100, in which the lesser the number the freer the media) does not indicate a disastrous situation, but the spot on the ladder is nothing short of a disgrace.
To help our readers navigate the information, let us mention that the ranking is topped by Norway with 7.60 and concluded by North Korea, whose media set a negative record of lack of freedom with 84.98.
The table compiled by contributors to Reporters Without Borders is quite enlightening. For example, the US is 43rd with 23.88, while Japan is 72nd with 29.44. Both countries are ranked ahead of Bulgaria, of course, but Japan’s score is pretty close to ours (with a difference of only 19%). Naturally, Bulgaria’s troubling low ranking cannot be camouflaged by comparatively disappointing rankings of super-democratic countries like the US.
I would like to make it clear that it is not my intention to praise the Bulgarian media for its independence or blast it for the opposite. Both positions would be ridiculous. Besides, I am no expert on the subject, such as it is. But there are some mindboggling things I need to point out.
I agree that our media is very likely less free than that in Jamaica (8th), Germany (16th), Namibia (24th), France (39th), England (40th), even the obscure Tonga (49th), Haiti (53rd) and Niger (61st). But what about the African nation of Gabon, which is ranked one spot ahead of us at 108th? A piece of reporting aired recently on one of the national TV networks revealed that journalists in Gabon are kidnapped, jailed without trial and even executed. We are talking about today, not years ago. And yet, Gabon is ahead of Bulgaria?! According to Reporters Without Borders, Gabon is freer, at least in media terms, than Bulgaria. Not by much, but it is still deemed freer.
Another intriguing example is the republic of Northern Cyprus, formed as a result of the Turkish invasion in Cyprus of 1974. This social and political entity has been recognised only by Turkey and two other countries, which means it is not strictly speaking a state. However, Northern Cyprus is ranked 75th with a score of 29.88 and is decidedly freer than Bulgaria, as far as Reporters Without Borders is concerned. I guess it is an insignificant detail that some minorities in Northern Cyprus have no right to vote. Apparently, if Bulgaria wants to be freer, it has to take a page from this otherwise unrecognised state’s democratic book (I, personally, have nothing against Northern Cyprus and its citizens).
The 2017 World Press Freedom Index has Togo 86th. This is the same country that was led by a certain military dictator for 38 years (from 1967 until 2005) and now that he is dead it is run by his son. It must be the democratic line of succession, I do not know. And it obviously had a highly beneficial effect on the media freedom, since Togo is way ahead of Bulgaria on that index.
Let us continue with the countries that apparently ought to be the standard. In Kyrgyzstan, which finds itself 89th with an admirable score of 30.92, women under the age of 23 have no right to travel abroad so as not to dilute the nation’s genetic pool (it is provided by the law of this state of justice). This is also not the best place for homosexual individuals to live in as they are subject to jail under the law and otherwise persecuted by the population. But Kyrgyzstan is obviously free in the eyes of some, freer than Bulgaria, if the Reporters Without Borders’ index is anything to go by.
Wait a second, I have skipped Burkina Faso at 42, whose 23.85 points make it technically freer than the US at 43. Perhaps it is? Who knows, it is a complex matter. I have not been following the Burkina Faso media of late but I came across an official list of coups and journalists killed in the country. By God, it is a long one. Media-free nations, at least classified as such by Reporters Without Borders, should not have such lists at all. It is enough to make one mad.
As the World Press Freedom Index seems rather absurd, we need to examine two hypotheses. One, the ludicrous ranking is done by members of Reporters Without Borders. I am not privy to the details, but this seems unlikely to me. It would make a mockery of the memory of the dozens of honourable and brave journalists that fall victim to the risks of their dangerous and very important profession each year. That leaves us the second hypothesis – that the media freedom assessment for some countries is provided by locals.
Let us return to the immediate proximity of Gabon and Bulgaria in the ranking. The former boasts two state TV networks and four newspapers, while its authorities persecute and execute inconvenient journalists. One of these long-suffering journalists said as much, at the risk of losing her own life. In Bulgaria, there are hundreds of newspapers and TV networks, thousands of websites, countless blogs and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Unfortunately, many of these outlets not only abuse freedom of speech but also encroach on basic rights and human dignity. Media is allowed to libel people and institutions almost without fear of repercussions (although not everyone does it). Inevitably, some victims snap and file lawsuits but the defendant is almost always acquitted. In the rare cases that they are convicted, the sentence is a fine, never jail time. That expense is covered by the editorial, of course. And thank God that is the case – that there are (almost) no mistreated and victims (something our history remembers), that we are miles away in terms of democracy and freedom from many of the countries that somehow are judged to have freer media than us. We are not only miles apart, but in different worlds so any comparisons between my country and Gabon, not to mention one to our detriment, is unacceptable.